The Next Move

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been planning my next strategic move in my war against cancer. As you may recall, after my clean MRI scan in early October, my oncologist, Dr. A.C., gave me four options: (1) continue with full-blown chemo, (2) go on maintenance chemo of 5-FU and Avastin, (3) stop chemo altogether and proceed to a “wait-and-see” approach with monthly CEA testing and quarterly scans or (4) take the rather unusual step of undergoing a “second look” exploratory surgery to visually inspect my insides in what would be the most accurate and reliable form of monitoring (better than any scan). In light of the minimal risks involved with, and the tremendous amount of information to be gain through, Option #4 (which would serve as the basis for my next treatment decision), I decided to go with a “second-look” laparoscopy. That surgery happened on October 31 and revealed that not only was I free of visible disease within the abdominal cavity but that based on the washings or “cytology” in the medical parlance (i.e. fluid flooded into the abdominal cavity, sucked out and then tested), I was also free of microscopic disease, or at least such a result gave me a 50/50 chance of being free of microscopic disease. It was not a result I or Dr. A.C. or my surgeon, Dr. D.L. expected. We were all prepared for the cytology to come back positive so when it didn’t, even though the results are only 50/50 reliable, we were all thrilled.

I saw both my oncologist and surgeon this week, Dr. A.C. on Monday and Dr. D.L. yesterday. They both hugged me. They were both beaming. Dr. A.C. told me, “Good job,” and in that moment I felt his pride in me, not unlike a father’s pride in his daughter. Implied in the hugs and the smiles from my doctors was a profound delight in the victory we had won together, a self-satisfaction on their part in their technical skills and their compassionate humanity, a happiness, tinged with wonder, on their part, and a humble and grateful pride, on my part, in the resilience of my body, a resilience that had allowed it to withstand well the collateral damage of 25 rounds of chemotherapy and 2 surgeries. While I have often thought of how horrible and depressing it must be to be an oncologist, surgical or otherwise, I saw in my doctors’ joy then how certain victories make it all worth it.

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Dominos Falling

When you are diagnosed with advanced cancer and the statistics are rather dramatically not in your favor, people (including those who themselves are facing advanced cancer) always tell you not to pay attention to the numbers, that you are not a number, etc., etc., etc. Those trite words seem to go hand-in-hand with platitudes like Never give up, There’s always hope, You have to be positive, and Everything happens for a reason. If you’ve read this blog for a while, then you know that I hate such inane statements of fluff, that I like to deconstruct them and determine for myself whether there’s actually any truth or pearl of wisdom within. At the beginning of this cancer journey, when faced with the sobering statistics, for my own self-preservation, I intuitively shunned the numbers too, insisting to myself and Josh that I am someone who has always defied the odds and that this would be no different, etc., etc., etc. I knew I wasn’t a number. I rebelliously wrote Numbers Mean Squat and stated that “I [chose] not to live and die by what the odds-makers say. I [chose] not to put faith in percentages that were assembled by some anonymous researcher looking at a bunch of impersonal data points. Instead, I [chose] to put faith in me, in my body, mind and spirit, in those parts of me that are already so practiced in the art of defying the odds.” And since then, I’ve portrayed Josh as the steadfast adherent to science, studies and statistics on one side and I as the staunch believer in self, faith and all that is unquantifiable on the other side. Sixteen months after my diagnosis, I have come to realize that those two sides theoretically representing two opposing perspectives on the value of statistics are not so opposite nor cut and dried, that indeed numbers do not mean squat, that they are informative and valuable, but they must be understood within a nuanced context that overly simplistic statements like “You are not a number” don’t even begin to capture.

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WOOHOO!

I know many who are not connected to me on Facebook are wondering about the results of the exploratory laparoscopy.  I wanted to write a more thoughtful piece but that’s taking a little longer than I had hoped.  So, in the meantime, I wanted to let everyone know the outcome of the surgery.   More